2022 Pentecost Offering Turning Struggle into Steadfastness

2022 Pentecost Offering: Turning Struggle into Steadfastness

June 5 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm EDT

Stories of struggle are nothing new to the church.

From the persecution faced by early Christians to civil rights movements led by faith leaders, the church has found its strength in times of unrest.

The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another chapter in this long history, both nothing unique and yet entirely different. 

Through it all, Disciples have been steadfast. By launching emerging congregations, they have stepped up to care for communities in need.

But they don’t do it alone.

With the help of regional and general ministries, these brave leaders have been provided with facilities to conduct their outreach activities and with online educational opportunities, such as Leadership Academy.

By making a gift to the 2022 Pentecost Offering, received in most congregations on Sundays, May 29 and June 5, you can ensure that the new church movement continues to prosper in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

Each year, half of these gifts go to your own region to support local new church development. The other half goes to New Church Ministry, which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies new church leaders across the U.S. and Canada through programs such as coaching, New Church Hacks, and Water the Plants.

Planning, nurturing, and sustaining new places of worship is part of the Disciples’ vision – participation in this Special Day Offering helps this vision come to life.

Please consider making a generous gift to this year’s Pentecost Offering.

Resources, including graphics, stories to share, and videos, can be found on the Pentecost Offering page located on Disciples Mission Fund (DMF) website. Please note: No bulletin inserts, posters, or envelopes will be mailed to congregations, but they are available on the DMF website. If you need envelopes, please email supplies@disciples.org 

Stories from previous years’ Pentecost Offerings can be found here.

There is a Balm in Chicago

Rebecca Anderson grew up Evangelical, but as a young adult, she didn’t consider herself a religious person.

That didn’t mean she didn’t dip her toes in the waters of different communities of faith.

And then she attended a local church in Boston at the suggestion of a fellow non-religious friend, which changed her life. In fact, she describes the experience as her day of Pentecost.

“It was this big lung full of bright, fresh air,” Rebecca recalls. “I hadn’t heard the gospel in the way that I heard it that day. I could finally understand what they were saying.”

This experience is what drives her ministry today, and it’s what inspired her in 2017 to launch Gilead Church Chicago, a joint congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, with her co-pastor Vince Amlin, who also pastors Bethany United Church of Christ alongside her.

“I try to create conditions where people who need a particular translation of the gospel can hear it,” Rebecca says. “I see on people’s faces, when the way we do church speaks to them, and I see it when it doesn’t.”

So, who does Gilead Church speak to? It’s with, for, and by people who’ve been told or made to feel that church isn’t for them.

“If these stories, traditions, practices, questions, and the person of Jesus are compelling or in any way meaningful to you, they are yours,” says Rebecca. “I’m not making seats at the table. It’s not my table, it’s yours. If you are drawn to this, God has prepared it for you. My call to ministry is to let people know that and then get out of the way.”

Worshipers at Gilead include members of the LGBTQ+ community, young adults, professional activists, and in Rebecca’s words “a disproportionately large number of women.” Several members of the lay and staff leadership are performers, as one of the faith community’s core practices, which were developed when Rebecca attended Leadership Academy in 2015, is telling true stories that save lives.

One of these stories is about a recent addition to Gilead, who returned to church after a 10-year absence due to severe spiritual trauma. To curtail their fears about and suspicion of Christian institutions, this person researched Gilead online and tentatively attended a worship service. Afterward, they made a list of what they wanted from church, including praise and worship music a la Hillsong and authoritative leadership, the kind that had the answers and knew their answers were right. Gilead didn’t have any of those requirements, so they told themselves they wouldn’t return. But as the week progressed, this person questioned what any item on their list had done but harm them. What they needed in their life was love, and they knew that Gilead had that. Ever since they’ve attended every service.

“It’s a miracle,” beams Rebecca. “They told the story at church this past Sunday and it was heartbreaking, good, and generous.”

One of Gilead’s other practices is making beautiful, creative worship. While its liturgy, order of worship, and communion are traditional, Gilead’s creativity is found in how it chooses to gather with its people. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they met at a bar, where they hung out and filled in story prompts. In the past, they’ve had worship on the subway and now they meet in a gym. Gilead also meets online, which Rebecca admits has been hard for her to do.

“Pre-pandemic, we were deeply analog because we didn’t want anything more on our phones, we were so done with it,” she remembers. “Gilead had always been this kind of doggedly in-person place. People tell personal stories that they consent to tell in a room to a specific group of people.”

COVID-19 also changed the way that the congregation threw parties, another one of their core practices. While throwing parties may seem like an odd practice for a church to embrace, for Gilead it’s about reclaiming a theology of joy, which has been absent from modern Christian tradition. Basing its practice on a Yale study that found joy was a marker of the life of faith in both Jewish and Christian scriptures, Gilead views Jesus as a party goer and God as a party thrower.

“Things are very serious,” Rebecca acknowledges, “but the antidote isn’t somberness, it’s joy.”

To that end, Gilead typically threw four large annual parties. It celebrated Easter with a dance party, complete with a DJ, communion, and a liturgical piñata. Every year, Rebecca’s co-pastor Vince insists that just hitting the pinata works, no one cares about the candy.

“We’ve got this one congregant who said, ‘we should get a pinata shaped like a gravestone,’ Rebecca laughs. “We thought it was so serious and on the nose. Couldn’t we just get a unicorn?”

These all stopped with the arrival of the novel coronavirus, but with creativity at its core, Gilead persevered. For Easter 2020, church leadership got people to contribute to its worship service, including award-winning poet Ada Limón, who kicked it off by reading her poem In the Country of Resurrection to the congregation. The following week, Rebecca and her colleagues purchased doughnuts from a local breakfast sandwich joint, fanned out around the city, and took doughnuts to congregants. Mindful of the health guidelines, staff members flung doughnuts through windows and placed them in containers lowered out of windows. They took communion to as many people as they could in the same way, adding a little table on the side of the street, which was used to do a socially distanced liturgy.

“We found ways to be together,” says Rebecca. “We had worship outside with everybody spread out. Only Vince and I were singing, and while I’m a big extrovert, I felt so exposed.”

This tension, one of curtailing your natural behavior for the safety of others, and what it does for your mental health, was explored in a 2020 sermon series Rebecca called Pity Parties. It featured true stories of the difficult times people were having during the pandemic, instead of glossing over them.

“There was that pandemic narrative where people would start off saying they were fine, continue on to a middle section of how they were really feeling, and then ending with them saying how lucky and privileged they were,” Rebecca explains. “We wanted to provide people with an opportunity to be honest.” 

Of course, honesty and vulnerability come hand in hand, so she is always careful to say that Gilead’s dynamic is about building intimacy from where people are at, appropriate for their context, and true to their DNA. Ultimately, the people of Gilead don’t want church that is sanitized of authentic experiences, even if they’re messy. This commitment to sharing what Rebecca calls “high emotions” is what makes the people of Gilead more than fellow worshipers, it makes them real friends, incidentally the last of the church’s core practices.

“Early on, we received a grant for a project with and for young adults, which in this case was people in their 20s, so we studied how people come into community,” says Rebecca. “We found that making adult friends is notoriously difficult so there’s this loneliness epidemic. As a result of that study, “’making real friends’ became one of our core practices.”

This practice comes from the close relationship that she and her co-pastor Vince share. They met in grad school and kept in touch over the years, communicating via text and getting together once a year. On a trip to St. Augustine, FL, they asked what it would look like if they started a church together. Not only did she and Vince share the same affinities and commitments, but Rebecca also didn’t think a solitary leadership model was ideal. They started talking about it then and soon they were texting every day. Rebecca shared what she learned at Leadership Academy about mission, vision, and values and they decided that Gilead would be a church for two pastors. Rebecca quit her job and that same week, she and Vince learned that Bethany was searching for one full-time pastor. They pitched their idea of splitting the job and co-pastoring not only Bethany, but Gilead too.

“This was a big risk for Bethany,” reveals Rebecca, “but thanks to some good DNA and interim work, they took a chance and hired us.”

The church had a small number of worshipers when Rebecca and Vince arrived, so they approached their new positions as leaders of a revitalization project. While Bethany was a 125-year-old neighborhood church, it was progressive and had a young membership. Now Bethany is vibrant and growing its numbers. 

Rebecca and Vince can juggle both positions because Gilead holds its worship services in the evenings. Each week, they’re both in leadership at one of the congregations, but one of them preaches and takes the lead on liturgy and the service. The following week, they switch positions and churches. Student pastors fill in their positions at their other congregation.

“I already know that working with Vince has been and will be one of the great and abiding joys of my entire life,” Rebecca reveals. “I’m just grateful.”

She’s also appreciative of the generous support from both the UCC and the Disciples of Christ, including the New Church/Ministries team of the Illinois-Wisconsin region, which has provided funding and just as importantly, encouragement.

“There’s mutual trust, so they’re not suspicious of our translation of the gospel and I’m not scared to ask anybody in the region anything,” says Rebecca. 

Rebecca and Vince also try to be available to folks who would find their experiences and knowledge useful, especially new church leaders. At its core, Gilead is viewed by its co-pastors as a ministry of their respective denominations.

“I’m doing this work to serve God and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which is the denomination where God found me,” Rebecca concludes. “I used to feel sheepish because I fell into this church, but it doesn’t matter. It is the place where God found me outside the empty tomb.”

To support emerging congregations like Gilead, make a gift to the Pentecost Offering, received in most congregations on June 5. 

2022 Pentecost Offering Turning Struggle into Steadfastness

2022 Pentecost Offering: Turning Struggle into Steadfastness

May 29 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm EDT

Stories of struggle are nothing new to the church.

From the persecution faced by early Christians to civil rights movements led by faith leaders, the church has found its strength in times of unrest.

The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another chapter in this long history, both nothing unique and yet entirely different. 

Through it all, Disciples have been steadfast. By launching emerging congregations, they have stepped up to care for communities in need.

But they don’t do it alone.

With the help of regional and general ministries, these brave leaders have been provided with facilities to conduct their outreach activities and with online educational opportunities, such as Leadership Academy.

By making a gift to the 2022 Pentecost Offering, received in most congregations on Sundays, May 29 and June 5, you can ensure that the new church movement continues to prosper across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

Each year, half of these gifts go to your own region to support local new church development. The other half goes to New Church Ministry, which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies new church leaders across the U.S. and Canada through programs such as coaching, New Church Hacks, and Water the Plants.

Planning, nurturing, and sustaining new places of worship is part of the Disciples’ vision – participation in this Special Day Offering helps this vision come to life.

Please consider making a generous gift to this year’s Pentecost Offering.

Resources, including graphics, stories to share, and videos, can be found on the Disciples Mission Fund website.

Stories from previous years’ Pentecost Offerings can be found here.

Pentecost Offering

May 23, 2021 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm EDT

Be the New Church

For the past thirteen months, many Disciples have been struggling with social isolation. They’ve stayed away from their various places of worship to protect the health and safety of themselves and others. It has been difficult.

How have new church leaders responded? By launching communities of faith in creative and innovative ways.

It’s looked like spreading the word about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada through Door Dash food deliveries, meeting with folks every week on Zoom to discuss anxiety, and making sure that the spiritual needs of those transitioning out of correctional facilities are met.

From hospital and prison chaplains to tri-vocational pastors, courageous new church leaders have answered the call to be the new church.

To support them and their efforts to continue the new church movement, please contribute to the 2021 Pentecost Offering, collected in most congregations on Sundays, May 16 and May 23. Each year, half of the gifts made go to your own Region to support local new church development. The other half goes to New Church Ministry, which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies new churches and their leaders. Through programs such as Leadership Academy, New Church Hacks, and Water the Plants, your gifts make a difference across the life of the Church. By participating in this Special Day Offering, you ensure the viability, vitality and sustainability of unique new church plants in your area and in states, provinces, and territories far away.

Please consider giving generously. Let’s all be the new church, together.

To access additional Pentecost Offering resources, including printable PDFs, videos, and graphics, visit the Disciples Mission Fund website.

Ekklesia

Finding a path to God with Ekklesia Global

Michelle Beech lives and works in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In her words, that’s not where she’s from, but that’s where God has her now.

Due to her father’s career as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), she’s lived all over the United States. So it’s fitting that her new community of faith, Ekklesia Global, has people joining their video calls from across the country and across the world. 

Michelle Beech (back row) visits a waterfall with members of her faith community.

Ekklesia launched in 2019, after Michelle had taken a break from church. Over the years she had filled almost every single position one could at a Disciples congregation and needed some time away. 

“I felt the Lord leading me to do something new,” Michelle says in a recent interview with New Church Ministry. “Was that digital church? But how do we use technology to create something beautiful, instead of trying to force what we know works in a building to fit the medium?”

So in March of that year, she hosted a listening retreat to hear what her friends’ spiritual needs were. It turns out that many of them had left church 30 to 40 years ago and others, five to ten years ago. Still others hadn’t found a place of worship that was right for them since moving to the area.

“Some people left church when they were young. They walked away from God and they haven’t been involved since,” Michelle tells us. “To some degree, they’re unchurched because they have that one early experience with their inherited faith, instead of their chosen faith.”

She led them through what she was thinking she wanted to do – to create an outreach ministry serving the new mission field of our own backyards – primarily for those who have left traditional church. After receiving feedback, Michelle came away with some helpful information. She then invited people interested in what she was doing to an Easter sunrise worship service, which was Ekklesia’s first official meeting. After that, they got together periodically and talked about God, read books, and learned about sacred dance. Because they didn’t have a fixed space, it freed them up to locate venues that would fit the particular service.

“We didn’t look at what we could do within the confines of four walls,” Michelle shares. “We are a church without walls.”

This structure made the transition to online gatherings easier for Ekklesia after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Participants meet on Zoom every week, where they bring the best of their own faith journeys. And yet Ekklesia is more than just a series of virtual gatherings. It’s an inclusive faith community, encouraging all to keep moving forward on their own path to God. Michelle believes that real spiritual growth happens in intimate settings, so Ekklesia is being developed as a collective of small groups.

“Some people like going into a new church that’s big, because they can disappear until they’re comfortable,” she says. “So this might be a little intimidating.”

Creating a safe space of radical hospitality has thus become an important aspect of Ekklesia for Michelle. She avoids using vocabulary that would alienate the de-churched and eschews membership. 

“We don’t teach a particular theology,” she adds. “We inspire people to keep exploring and discovering by exposing them to different theologies.”

To that end, Ekklesia features guest speakers such as the Rev. Hannah Fitch, a member of its theology team, who introduced participants to ecofeminist theology, and Rev. Ronnie C. Lister, a founder of The International Center for Labor, Social and Spiritual Activism, who discussed Black liberation theology the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day.

For Michelle, Ekklesia is about getting people to the Table.

“I’m not looking to convert anybody, but if I had a Muslim friend come be part of these conversations around faith, he could hear why Jesus works for me, and I could hear why his faith has led him down this path and kept him close to God,” she emphasizes. “Without the conversation, neither of us ever get there.”

Michelle adds that she’s under care of the North Carolina region and working toward being commissioned. Ordination may come down the road, but that’s not where she feels she’s being led. Michelle refers to herself as a shepherd, one who makes sure Ekklesia’s conversations stick to its tenets of loving unconditionally, celebrating differences, seeking joy, and being a catalyst for positive change.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t take her leadership role seriously. Last year, Michelle and her team attended Leadership Academy, an annual event hosted by New Church Ministry that empowers leaders, regardless of their denominational affiliation.

When we ask her what to expect at an Ekklesia meeting, she holds up a neon green notebook. Michelle explains that every new participant receives one, even if journaling isn’t their thing, because she wants to at least provide them with a resource, a holding place for their thoughts and feelings that they can turn to at another time. As she describes it, journaling can be a way to meditate – after all, the simple act of writing something with a pen and paper requires time and attention. 

“If nothing else, you’ll see it,” Michelle chuckles, “and be reminded of the circle of people who love you.”

Other than a brightly colored notebook, participants in an Ekklesia meeting can also anticipate thought-provoking discussions shaped and formed by other attendees. After her friend and chairman of the board, who left the Catholic Church when he was 13 years old, came to her asking about her thoughts on original sin, she decided to do a series on “big God questions.” Michelle admits that she began to interrogate what she was taught, where her beliefs came from, and if she still held them today. 

“I really started thinking harder about my answers,” she recalls. “And in doing that, I was then excited to share the Bible with the group because it’s been a wonderful source of inspiration, hope, and wisdom that I put on a pedestal.”

Michelle is careful to point out that she doesn’t bring in the Bible to teach others her way of practicing her faith, but to inform their own personal faith journeys. She knows that others have different interpretations of Scripture and all she can do is share what works for her and why.

“So they get a ton of my Jesus stories,” Michelle laughs, “and a ton of my Holy Spirit stories!”

Over the past couple years, she says that she’s learned to step back and be more sensitive and unassuming as she’s gotten Ekklesia off of the ground. Michelle advises other church planters to trust the spirit and allow themselves to be open so that God can work through them.

“Let me tell you, if I had done what I thought needed to be done,” she jokes, “I probably would have pushed some of these people away!”

While 80% to 90% of Ekklesia’s participants identify as Christian, others see themselves as spiritual instead. It’s not that they’ve abandoned Jesus Christ’s teachings, Michelle clarifies, they just got frustrated with the people and the politics and decided to walk away from organized religion.

“They still love God and believe in Jesus,” she says. “They think we could easily build the kingdom on earth, if we would all just do our part.”

When we ask Michelle how Disciples can do their part to support new faith communities like Ekklesia, she encourages them to contribute to the Pentecost Offering, which divides gifts between the Regions and New Church Ministry. New Church Ministry uses gifts from this Special Day Offering to develop and maintain programs such as coaching and New Church Hacks

“New Church Ministry’s resources and training help Disciples develop new ideas on how to do church,” she summarizes. “The biggest leap I made was the day I realized that just because I wasn’t specifically teaching a certain way, didn’t mean that I wasn’t doing important work to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples.”

The Pentecost Offering is collected in most congregations on May 16 and May 23. 

Pentecost Offering

May 16, 2021 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm EDT

Be the New Church

For the past thirteen months, many Disciples have been struggling with social isolation. They’ve stayed away from their various places of worship to protect the health and safety of themselves and others. It has been difficult.

How have new church leaders responded? By launching communities of faith in creative and innovative ways.

It’s looked like spreading the word about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada through Door Dash food deliveries, meeting with folks every week on Zoom to discuss anxiety, and making sure that the spiritual needs of those transitioning out of correctional facilities are met.

From hospital and prison chaplains to tri-vocational pastors, courageous new church leaders have answered the call to be the new church.

To support them and their efforts to continue the new church movement, please contribute to the 2021 Pentecost Offering, collected in most congregations on Sundays, May 16 and May 23. Each year, half of the gifts made go to your own Region to support local new church development. The other half goes to New Church Ministry, which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies new church leaders. Through programs such as Leadership Academy, New Church Hacks, and Water the Plants, your gifts make a difference across the life of the Church. By participating in this Special Day Offering, you ensure the viability, vitality and sustainability of unique new church plants in your area and in states, provinces, and territories far away.

Please consider giving generously. Let’s all be the new church, together.

To access additional Pentecost Offering resources, including printable PDFs, videos, and graphics, visit the Disciples Mission Fund website.

incarceration

What a congregation for those impacted by incarceration can teach the church about welcoming all

Rev. Dr. Louis Threatt never thought he’d be a pastor.  

But that changed when he became a prison chaplain in North Carolina, where he noticed a disconnect between church and prison.

In a recent video call with New Church Ministry, Rev. Dr. Louis tells us that there’s both a lack of prison ministries and congregations doing prison ministry well.

incarceration
Rev. Dr. Louis Threatt

“In Matthew 25, Jesus asks ‘did you visit me?’ Churches will use that text to check this box off, even if they do little more than stop by,” Rev. Louis says. “Others will come into the prison and preach fire and brimstone.”

Attitudes toward those who have been incarcerated are not much better after they’re released.

According to Rev. Louis, when someone is released from prison and enters into a church, a simple introduction can be very uncomfortable, as some struggle between revealing that they’ve been incarcerated and having their past exposed or waiting until somebody finds out and then being treated differently. 

So he asked himself, why not have a place of worship that welcomes everybody? 

In February 2020, after several discussions with God and confirmation through friends, Rev. Louis and others pressed forward with planting a faith community for those impacted by incarceration, including those that served time, are currently serving time, and their families, as well as those that work inside these institutions. The pastor counts himself as a part of this community, as one of his best friends and several of his immediate family members have been incarcerated. For example, his sister spent 17 years behind bars, but is out now and doing very well. 

“I know what it’s like writing to somebody who’s locked up, visiting them, talking to someone through a glass window, wondering when you can see them on the outside,” he says, “and I know what it is like beholding the joy when they’re released.” 

Rev. Louis’s prison coworkers would say that he was doing time just like the inmates, but he knew the difference was that he could leave when he wanted to. 

“I can never fully understand the experience of somebody who has been incarcerated,” he clarifies.

Being on the other side though hasn’t exactly been easy for Rev. Louis. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and it’s continuing to rise. The rates for African American males have gone from one in 12, to one in eight, to one in three.

“Seeing that increase, and witnessing the vast number of persons of color inside, especially as an African American man, has been challenging,” he admits. “So have the conversations with people that have served their time, have been released, and returned. Some of them informed me that they recommitted just to get back in for a peace of mind and less responsibility. Unfortunately, this is a challenge for many who do not receive the support that is needed, especially the kind that can come from the church.”

So in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rev. Louis and others started developing a community of faith focused on incarceration. He knew that he could wait until he had more funds and more planning, but that this need was too great and urgent. So in June 2020, Cities of Refuge Christian Church (DOC) was launched. 

“I have pastored other congregations and I’m not big on starting a church just for starting a church,” says Rev. Louis. “I feel called to this particular ministry, and in this particular fashion. Our mission is to share Jesus Christ’s goodness, words, and teachings. We are open to and for those that are left out, abandoned, and forgotten.”

When we inquire about his involvement with New Church Ministry, he gives high praise to Pastor Terrell L McTyer, Minister of New Church Strategies.

“Pastor Terrell has helped extend some of this vision that God has put on me,” remarks Rev. Louis, “and been able to help formulate some of my radical ideas.”

In addition, he is grateful for the spiritual guidance through others such as his pastor, Bishop William J. Barber II and NC Regional Minister Bishop Valerie Melvin. (Watch Cities of Refuge Church’s video that was shown at the recent Regional assembly.)

A virtual worship service

Participants gather on Zoom and there are plans to explore sites in the area between Durham and Hillsborough once COVID-19 restrictions ease. As for the name, Rev. Louis turned to the Old Testament, when the Israelites were crossing over the Jordan River. In Joshua 20, God tells Joshua to set up cities of refuge. Those that have committed a crime can flee to one of these cities and be received without judgement, and protected and loved.

“There’s a lot of cities of refuge that focus on refugees, those that have been pushed to the margins, those in the LGBTQ+ community,” Rev. Louis says. “But you rarely see any that particularly serve who the scripture talks about.”

People tend to point out that these cities of refuge are for those who have committed a crime unknowingly. Rev. Louis counters this argument with Matthew 5. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” He goes on to say, “My father rains on the just and the unjust,” and to greet everybody even the least of these. Rev. Louis then presents the case of Barabbas, who was serving a life sentence for murder until he was released by Jesus.

“How can we pick and choose who we invite into the church?” Rev. Louis questions. “I don’t believe that’s the God we serve. That’s not Jesus. In fact, many forget that Jesus was an inmate.”

Rev. Dr. Louis and a volunteer

So Cities of Refuge Church’s congregants include people who have been incarcerated, those who have been impacted by incarceration, and others who are passionate about the work that is happening. Their worship services are like any other services – they have music, invocation, prayer, and scripture reading. Every Sunday, Rev. Louis intentionally sets time aside for testimony to hear celebrations. In our ministry’s interview with him, he offers two examples. One is of a worshiper who sang in a prison choir, was released, and now continues his passion for music with Cities of Refuge. He shared with the church that he was able to get his ankle bracelet removed and is no longer on curfew. Another is of a member who was serving a life sentence and was released after 29 years. This individual shared the joy of receiving his driver’s license and insurance.

“These brothers are putting everything on the table, keeping us on track with what they are doing,” explains Rev. Louis. “So we stopped and put our hands together to celebrate these wonderful accomplishments. Getting a driver’s license might seem like a small achievement to a lot of people, but this is huge for him and us.”

Rev. Louis tells us that for his brothers and sisters at Cities of Refuge (COR) and elsewhere across the country, finding somebody after they get out—other than a judge or a probation officer—to hold them accountable, to check on their spirit and peace of mind, and see how things are going and offer support, is essential. That’s why he and his associate ministers and other members build relationships with individuals before and when they come out. Rev. Louis believes that strong support systems, like families and religious groups such as his, will decrease the recidivism rate.

In addition to worship, COR visits homeless shelters and transitional homes at least four times a year, but supports them on a monthly basis. Rev. Louis shares with us an experience of a trip to one such transitional home that he and others at COR had previously been to. On their second visit, an employee there informed them that a neighbor was shot and killed the night before, so he and his staff were hesitant about letting COR return. In the end, they let them visit and serve.

incarceration
COR visits a transitional home

“I’m glad that they did,” divulges Rev. Louis. “We were setting up to do a fish fry and community give away, when a woman approached us and said that people living nearby were sad and heartbroken over the killing of the young man, but our congregation’s presence was bringing them life. So we prayed, gave out food, and blasted music. It was a great joy to help this transitional home and the neighborhood in the midst of pain.”

He and his colleagues anticipate making more consistent visits this year as well as providing educational and partnership opportunities to those who have been impacted by incarceration. Additionally, the congregation has a faith team with the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham and Rev. Louis is one of the facilitators that helps mitigate sentencing and reduce recidivism.

incarceration
COR visits another transitional home.

He hopes that COR can lead by example and change the narrative when it comes to the church supporting those impacted by incarceration. Helping them to reintegrate back into society without feeling ashamed, nor scrutinized but supported in every way. If other congregations can see that returning citizens and those who have been convicted of a crime have done their time, guilty or not, can further help strengthen the church as part of the body, then maybe they’ll consider forming a prison ministry, reevaluate the one that they have, and/or how they’re currently doing ministry as a whole.

“These people coming out are not just inmates,” he emphasizes, “they’re our brothers and sisters.”

To support churches like COR, make a gift to the Pentecost Offering, collected in most congregations on May 16 and 23. This Special Day Offering is divided between New Church Ministry and local Regions.

Navigating death, intimacy, and the palpable nature of online church with Rev. Orlando Scott

New Church Ministry’s interview with Rev. Orlando Scott started later than expected.

As a chaplain at Northside Hospital in Lawrenceville and Duluth, Ga., he had just spent time in comfort care with a dying patient and her boyfriend, who had been brought down from another floor. Rev. Orlando is busy turning on lamps in his office to improve the dull clinical lighting and apologizing for his tardiness when he joins our video call.

Even though we ask if he wants to reschedule, Rev. Orlando replies that it isn’t a problem, this is everyday life for him and his colleagues, including the intern who pops into the room to confirm his patient’s death.

As we get to know Rev. Orlando better throughout the afternoon, our ministry comes to understand that what he says rings true: journeying with people as God meets them where they are is part of his day-to-day life, whether it’s virtually gathering on Wednesday nights with members of his new congregation, Amplify Christian Church (DOC), or urging legislators at the Georgia state Senate to love the homeless as much as they love the homeowner, or even handing out food to local residents.

Before the pandemic, Rev. Orlando officiated the marriage of one of his co-workers.

“I just want to be a helping hand, a listening ear, a compassionate heart,” he tells us. “That’s the way I approach pastoral ministry.”

Before he launched Amplify Christian Church last year, Rev. Orlando was on the team to create mental health awareness and advocacy programming for pastoral leadership in his region as part of its mental health initiative. As a hospital chaplain, he regularly interacts with folks experiencing mental illness, so he went from asking himself, “how do I become aware?” to “how do I become a partner?”

This way of thinking has served him well, especially since he planted his faith community right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, he had several conversations with the former Regional Director of New Church & Church Development, Rev. Richard Williams, about the different sites that the Christian Church in Georgia was looking at developing, including Snellville, a city not 10 minutes away from where Rev. Orlando lives. He asked to look at the building and if anyone occupied it. It turns out no one was, so Rev. Orlando began to develop a ministry there. He brought relatives and others that live in or near the community to the site, and asked them what they envisioned for it. The plan was to open in March of 2020, which, for obvious reasons, did not go through. But what did end up happening was numerous calls with friends who were anxious about the state of the world. Rev. Orlando initially responded by organizing an online Bible study about anxiety, that has now moved on to studies about mutually supportive relationships. On Zoom meetings, he and his friends have explored the Book of Ruth, and how the three women in the story sustained each other over time through their crisis. Rev. Orlando has found that creating vital relationships during the past 13 months has been essential as people still need ways to communicate with each other. This last quarter, the topic of his weekly conversations has been how to love and grow in community, even in the midst of continued isolation.

The number of congregants has grown too, from six to 11, as family members and friends join. Rev. Orlando also welcomes those from different faith traditions and even those without a faith tradition.

“On a day-to-day basis, I meet people in all types of circumstances and spiritual or religious traditions,” he shares. “These exchanges undergird how I envision what church or a pastor should or could be.”

And yet, he’s wary of adding additional participants to his meetings at this time, as he doesn’t want to lose the dynamic he’s built with his fellow worshipers. Many of the people Rev. Orlando’s met through Amplify have experienced church trauma, but find his space one of fellowship, healing, and development – one where they can become the person they were called to be. As he discusses his faith community, it seems that the environment he’s cultivated is due to the way he does ministry.

“You’re the expert on who you are, and your spirituality,” says Rev. Orlando. “I’m not going to force you into some type of ideology. I don’t know your experience. In chaplaincy it’s called being an intimate stranger – we walk in this intimate space together, but I’m still a stranger.”

While he views his work at Amplify as meeting needs the way that most other churches are, Rev. Orlando describes his approach as non-traditional, something he picked up as the secretary of the National Benevolent Association (NBA)’s Board of Trustees. Seeing all of the NBA’s different health and social ministries across the United States helped him think outside the box.

Historically, the Church has wanted numbers, to open up the doors and find a way to get people in,” Rev. Orlando says. “For me, it’s about learning to build trust, so that people can feel that we are investing in them, not just extracting. As I invest, I want people to do the same, so that we have this mutual exchange.”

On that note, we ask the pastor/chaplain/church planter what it means to him for Disciples to contribute to the Pentecost Offering. Half of the gifts made to this Special Day Offering go to New Church Ministry to train, equip, assist and multiply leaders through programs like Leadership Academy, coachingNew Church Hacks, and Water the Plants. The other half stays in regions across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada to support local new church development.

“For me, to be able to receive those gifts… it’s doing the ministry of Jesus Christ, creating opportunities to meet particular needs of folks around us,” muses Rev. Orlando. “And to be able to share the love and compassion of Christ in a tangible way.”

Brother Stan, a member of the church, handles boxes for Amplify’s food distribution program

While “tangible” may not be the best way to describe a virtual faith community, Amplify has done some work on the ground. Since June of last year, it has partnered with the county once a month to give away 200 boxes of produce. It has a similar collaboration with a local high school, which lets students and families know that boxes of food are available to be picked up.

“Two people started out giving produce, then it grew to three, five people,” he recalls. “It doesn’t take much, just an idea that you want to give of yourself and provide a space to help others.”

Rev. Orlando sees food sustainability and serenity as future goals for Amplify. He hopes that through a community garden, he and others can provide organic food to their neighbors, helping people reorient the ways that they consume and produce food, as well as relate to the land around them. Along that vein, Rev. Orlando also looks forward to offering horticultural therapy to the community as a way of cultivating spirituality along with emotional wellness. Others in his circle may have other plans.

“People are still wanting to gather and meet each other, but we’re not going to do that,” he laughs. “We have talked about doing a retreat in 2022 for us to all get together, probably in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it’s not going to happen right now.”

As our hour together comes to a close, we ask Rev. Orlando for any parting words.

“In our worldview, we sometimes have a scarcity mentality, but each of us have talents and abilities,” he opines. “If we use that for mutual growth and development, there is no lack.”

You can support new faith communities like Rev. Orlando’s by making a gift to the Pentecost Offering, collected in most churches on May 16 and May 23. 

Pentecost Offering

June 7, 2020 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm EDT

Celebrating 1,000 New Churches… and Counting!

In 2001 the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada embraced a bold vision: to start 1,000 new churches in 1,000 different ways by the year 2020. And we did it! We started 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Today, we have welcomed 1,034+ new faith communities into the Church. The Table around which we gather has grown in language, diversity, and life experience. Our church has been transformed by the movement of the Holy Spirit and an audacious vision to start new churches.

Celebrating 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Courageous leaders have answered the call to grow the Disciples family through the new church movement. They have given their hearts to reaching the underserved, welcoming new neighbors, and creating communities of love. And we, as a church, have committed to supporting those who have stepped out in faith to start new churches.

We celebrate these brave leaders and recommit to continuing to support their call. Because, together, we started 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Participate in the 2020 Pentecost Offering. Express your gratitude for what God has done and contribute to the continued work of starting more churches. Each year, half of what you give stays in your Region to support and sustain new churches near you. The second half helps train, equip, assist, and nurture leaders across North America through New Church Ministry programs. Your gift to the Pentecost Offering will help the movement continue.

For more Pentecost Offering resources, including a brief video, visit: disciplesmissionfund.org/special-offerings/pentecost.

Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly together in Des Moines

The New Church Ministry team met Rev. Debbie Griffin, the Senior Minister of Downtown Disciples, last summer at General Assembly (GA). Since the pastor’s congregation is based in Des Moines, IA, it offered worship services, hosted pre-assembly activities for general ministries, prepared a meal for regional ministers, and chaired the local GA mission committee.

All of that as a new church planted in 2015.

To celebrate the culmination of the 2020 Vision goal to form 1,000 congregations within the first two decades of the 21st Century, we spoke with Rev. Debbie about Downtown Disciples. 

How do you describe Downtown Disciples?

It’s a progressive faith community. We are LGBTQ+-affirming, and we proclaim Black Lives Matter. We say that every time we gather, because it matters to us. We are a new church formed by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper Midwest Region.

Why did you plant Downtown Disciples?

I was about to give up on the Church. I love many things about it. I was raised in the Disciples Church. I love the faith. I love the stories of Jesus. But I was really frustrated that some folks within the Church were really challenging progressive theology. I just felt like the Church wasn’t being the inclusive, boundary-breaking, justice-loving presence of Christ in the world. I thought I would just go work in the nonprofit sector. I secured a position with the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa when I was called by the Region to consider a small congregation that needed a short-term interim minister. I started serving that church full of beautiful people and they really changed me. They were doing such great ministry, in western Iowa of all places, which is very conservative. This small church of faithful people was doing amazing work in the love of Christ. They had two queer women in leadership positions. They were serving a home-cooked meal to more than 100 people every Wednesday night, no questions asked, opening their doors and not pressuring people to be church in a certain way. A diverse group of people came for many reasons. Relationships were built. It was just organic, and it was ministry. They gave me hope for the Church. I thought to myself, “If this can happen in western Iowa, it can certainly happen in downtown Des Moines.” I thought, “there must be more people like me, who love Jesus and miss faith community, but whose theology is too progressive for most people.” So, I laid out a vision of starting as an LGBTQ+-affirming book club. We started with a book called Saving Jesus From the Church by Robin Myers, who’s a UCC pastor. People came! We read one book, and then we read another book. Then we started serving meals at the homeless shelter down the street. Then we walked in the Pride Parade. Then we started doing a variety of other activities, going to our city council about policing and racial profiling. Pretty soon someone said, “When are we going to worship?” That’s when I knew we had a church. 

The Pentecost Offering allows local Disciples to support new church plants like yours, across the United States and Canada. What does the Pentecost Offering mean to you as a church planter?

We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Pentecost Offering. Downtown Disciples wouldn’t have had a place to worship that worked for us. We needed to be in a neutral place, because we’re reaching out to people who’ve been wounded and excluded from church. Also, we wanted to be in an urban setting. That costs money. Plus, we needed a full-time pastor to make this work. The Upper Midwest Region has been exceptionally supportive of us. Ultimately, they set out a three-year plan of sustainability for us. And the other people in our Region have been just as supportive of this amazing ministry.

The 2020 Vision prioritized forming 1,000 congregations in 1,000 different ways. What is the “way” your faith community demonstrates that diversity?

We didn’t start with worship. When we did decide to start worshiping, we were clear that we didn’t want to do so in a typical church building. At Pentecost, we’ll be five years old, and we’ve had three worship locations: a community center, a loft-type space above a music venue, and now a bakery. We also started out with worship on Sunday nights. Then as we grew, we added a Sunday morning worship.  We also have a podcast called Like Micah, because our mission is Micah 6:8 – “do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.” We tell stories of our faith. We like to say we’re nimble, and we respond to the needs of the community. Most of our people were not coming to us through worship. They were coming to us at the wine bar when we were having Word Up Wednesdays. They were coming to us for Bible Geeks on Tuesday mornings at the local hip coffee shop. We were meeting up at a laundromat where we would just do random acts of kindness and hang out and be there with children’s books and food and quarters. People found us at other places that were easier entry points, and then once they could trust us, they would move to worship. 

Senior Minister Debbie Griffin leads worship at La Mie, the bakery that serves as the church’s worship location. (All services are now online.)

How would you define the progressive Christianity you promote?

We spell it out in our website. People who have been wounded or excluded by the church, need to know who you are. I’m specifically referring to LGBTQ+ people. They have gone to churches that say they’re welcoming, until you want to marry your beloved; or you want to be a leader in the church; or you want to attend seminary. So, when we say progressive, we mean LGBTQ+-affirming; we proclaim Black Lives Matter; we are curious about other faiths. We do not condemn or judge others, because Jesus calls us not to do that. And we are passionate about social justice.

What role do new faith communities have in the church?

They are the heartbeat of the church right now. I know that in the Upper Midwest Region, other Disciples churches that identify as traditional look to us. Oftentimes people worry the new churches are going to “replace” the traditional churches. I don’t see it that way. I see that we can be an outreach for traditional churches who see in us something that they love, but they can’t be right now. So, we become an outreach of their ministry. We currently have one church in the Upper Midwest Region that supports us financially. They send us part of their outreach budget. They send us a check every quarter because they can identify that we can do some things that they can’t do right now. I think we’re the hope for, not only people who have been excluded and wounded by church, but for traditional church people who see in us an opportunity to partner and extend their ministry.

Do you have any advice for people looking to plant a church?

What God is doing in new church is different in every single place. What worked for Downtown Disciples was unique to what God was doing here and is doing here in our time and our place. New church planting here is not the cookie-cutter for other new churches anywhere else. Still, some things are true for all church plants. I would say, don’t do it alone; listen to the Spirit and to the people who you’ve gathered. We wouldn’t be who we are without the people who gathered with us, allowing the Spirit to work through them.

How is your congregation responding to the coronavirus?

We worship and gather virtually. We share what type of bread we are breaking together in our homes during communion. We raised $1,000 for PPE, donating those funds to our local hospitals that need life-saving equipment. We continue to deliver supplies to our homeless neighbors, wearing face masks, gloves, and staying at a safe distance. We write cards to our friends who are isolated. We cook and deliver meals, flowers, and groceries to members who are quarantined or at high risk. In summary, we are still a movement for wholeness in this fragmented world. The Spirit still calls and empowers us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly together.”

Downtown Disciples holds a worship service over Zoom.

New faith communities like Downtown Disciples are supported by the Pentecost Offering. Half of the offering supports New Church Ministry to coach and train new church leaders. Half supports local Regions to sustain new churches. Join us in celebrating the 2020 Vision by making a gift through your congregation or the DMF website. This Special Day Offering is received on May 31 and June 7.